If I could make a living laughing, I totally would. If laughing could actually pay the bills, dude, I’d be all over that. I’d be first to claw my way to the front of the line to apply and I’d make damn sure I nailed that interview. Hell, I’d even nail the interviewer if that would help secure the position. But, seriously, while I’m a “tough” audience when it comes to comedy, when done right, it’s one of those things that makes me happy to be alive. Broadway West’s current play I Hate Hamlet is one of those shows that pays back your ticket price tenfold in the form of collective joy and laughter therapy, making me really glad I was an audience member even if they don’t pay me in legal tender.
The humor of I Hate Hamlet is part predictable-but-marvelously-delivered-slap-stick and part almost-but-not-quite-meta-intellectual-quip, but none of the actors (or the writer or the director for that matter) let the material take itself too seriously. Nor do they throw any of the comedy away. They commit to all of it equally and their chemistry is delightful. While I’m sure some knowledge of Shakespeare and perhaps some knowledge of John Barrymore would be helpful in getting all the jokes, I don’t feel this play excludes anyone and that’s certainly due in large part to a naturally hilarious cast.
Despite what anyone says, I’m a firm believer that you can’t TEACH comic timing. You can, as a director, break it down to beats and try to help pacing along and give people bits and you can get close, but for comedy to work 100% you have to GET funny on an instinctual, cellular level. This places huge pressure on the director to cast well and boy, did they ever unlock the Casting Achievement. Check.
The entire cast treats their comedy like a live venomous snake. They’re extremely careful how they handle it; focused, gently and assertively, without ever letting on how difficult it is or how nervous they might be. They’re quick on their feet and agile with their repartee. They go big when they need to and subtle when it serves them. They make it look easy, which it most certainly is not. This balance between consciousness of your audience’s reactions (timing lines between laughs, calculating the perfect moment and volume to get the next line out so no one misses anything) and staying 100% connected to the other actors on stage, is one of the things I love about comedy. When true comic talent applies this level of intuition and multitasking to well-written and well-directed material it really shines. This cast possesses every look, pause, and delivery method needed to take all the written jokes (and even the lines that AREN’ T supposed to be jokes) and birth them a fabulous, funny life.
Special shout out to the flattering and humorous (where appropriate), well-balanced, textile storytelling of the costumes, which helped the audience immediately understand the characters the second they walked on the stage, before uttering a single word.
While the first half speeds along the second half goes just a tad slower with about 10-15 minutes of reflective sentiment and cheese winning out over hilarity. The seats are not the most comfortable in this space (cushioned pews with confining wooden arm rests essentially) but it’s a small price to pay for the benefits that come with smaller theaters. The intimate space makes it easy to catch every sarcastic slow blink, eyebrow raise and nuanced hand gesticulation as well as relish the over the top DRAMA which fills up the venue so grandly. The smaller playing area does cramp some stage combat, but aside from those few minor issues, this was a fantastic example of Community Theater at its best.
A richly deserved 4 ½ jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a show that runs the laughing gamut from smirks and stifled snorts, all the way to chortles, chuckles and outbursts. I Hate Hamlet plays through April 20th at the Broadway West Theater in Fremont.